Amazing Grace: The ICOC and Baptism, Part 2

You see, the baptism verses are there, and they are true, and we understand them largely correctly — so don’t waste your time citing Acts 2:38 etc. to me. I know them and agree with them. But all those faith-only verses are there, too. We usually deal with them by reading the baptism verses second and saying the baptism verses explain them (away), while the Baptists are reading the faith-only verses and saying they explain (away) our baptism verses. Both arguments are illegitimate.

Now, consider this. Nearly every Christian denomination baptizes. The Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, and most Pentecostal denominations baptize for remission of sins. However, the Calvinist churches and churches with a Calvinist heritage — the Baptists especially — insist that baptism is a mere ordinance, that is, just a command. But the Baptists are starting to return to a somewhat sacramental view of baptism. And there have always been Baptists that baptize for remission of sins.

And some groups baptize only believers by immersion, such as some branches of the Church of God and the Baptists. We are not as alone or different as we sometimes like to think.

The key differences with most (not all) other denominations is that we reject infant baptism and we insist on immersion rather than sprinkling or pouring. And I think we’re right.

But consider the plight of someone who is raised outside the Churches of Christ. They look “baptism” up in the dictionary, and the dictionary says “baptism” includes pouring and sprinkling. And countless commentaries and study Bibles say the same thing. They read the arguments on infant baptism, and learn that many of the greatest scholars in church history favor infant baptism.

My point is that it’s entirely possible to be a much better student of the Bible than most and yet conclude that the New Testament approves infant baptism, sprinkling, or pouring. You’d be wrong, but not because of a hard or rebellious heart.

Thus, the question becomes: if someone approaches God with a genuine faith in Jesus, with a penitent heart, and a defective baptism, will God reject such a person? I think the scriptures say no, for several reasons.

First, as I argue in this post more fully and continue in this post, in every “dispensation,” we can find examples of people doing exactly that and finding salvation outside the stated covenant-means of forgiveness. As an example, when David was charged with adultery and murder in his dealing with Bathsheba and her husband, he wrote,

(Psa 51:16-17)  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

This is all quite contrary to the law of Moses, which was very much in effect. I cite other examples in the posts.

Some want to argue that God can’t violate his own rules, but he can and he does. Others argue we shouldn’t presume on God’s grace — and they are right. But if you really don’t know any better, you’re not presuming.

Second, as I argue more fully here, and as I have mentioned a couple of times recently, God doesn’t require the other “steps” in our salvation to be perfect. If we had to have perfect faith, we could move mountains. If we had to have perfect penitence, we’d be sinless. Why would God require a perfect baptism when these obviously weightier elements can be imperfect?

Third, as I argue in the same post, only the saved have the Spirit, and all with the Spirit are saved.

(Rom 8:9b,11) And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. … 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

And the scriptures are clear that the Spirit’s presence should be evident to people who know you. Here are a couple of verses to consider:

(1 Cor. 12:3) Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

(1 John 4:2-3a, 15) This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. … If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

In each of these passages, the writer declares that faith in Jesus demonstrates the presence of the Spirit.

And there are other verses that suggest that Christians may be discerned by their behavior. For example,

(John 13:34-35) “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Therefore, the presence of a genuine faith and a Christ-like love for fellow believers indicates the presence of the Spirit.

The Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all Christians “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). Moreover, the Spirit changes our hearts and thus our behavior —

(Gal. 5:16-25) So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. …

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

And so we see that the presence of the Spirit is supposed to have an ethical influence — much more than that — it’s supposed to change our hearts and thus our behavior. Now, undoubtedly, there are people who have never so much as heard of Jesus — idolaters even — who live very moral and upright lives. Mere good deeds do not prove the presence of the Spirit. But deeds done by a person of faith demonstrates a Spirit-filled heart. Isn’t that what the verses plainly say?

(I spend more words on this concept because so many in the Churches of Christ struggle to understand the passages dealing with the Spirit, even though the indwelling Spirit is a vital doctrine that permeates the New Testament.)

Fourth, as I argue in this post, the prophets and Jesus repeatedly declare that the state of our hearts is far more important than our adherence to God’s own rituals. Going back to Psalm 51, David declared by inspiration that God forgives because of a broken and contrite heart, not sacrifices, and yet sacrifices were the ritual by which Israelites received forgiveness (by the power of Jesus’ blood not yet shed). Of course, in the normal course God expects his rituals to be followed, and he would deal severely with those who refuse out of a rebellious heart. But he always accepts those who come with faith and penitence.

(Hosea 6:6)  For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

(Isa 58:6-11)  “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

(Micah 6:6-8)  With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Fifth, the character of God, as revealed in Jesus, shows that he will forgive beyond our expectations or what we deserve.

A very familiar story is told in Matthew:

(Matt. 9:1-8) Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. . . .”

Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

Jesus was asked to heal the paralyzed man, but he forgave him even though he wasn’t asked to do so! The men asked for less than Jesus was willing to give, and yet Jesus gave what was needed. This is the nature of our Savior. He does not give begrudgingly to those who approach him with faith.

(Eph 3:12) In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

(Heb 4:16) Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Why do we suppose that a Baptist who asks to join the church, the body of Christ, with a saving faith and penitent heart but ignorant of the true purpose of baptism, will be denied his greatest need by a loving, gracious Savior? Why imagine that a Savior anxious to forgive will fail to do so when a faithful man or woman fails to use enough water in the baptismal ceremony? This is the same Savior who forgives the faithful who don’t even ask for forgiveness!

Sixth, God keeps all his promises — every, single one. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. God meant for baptism to be properly administered to each convert. Jesus commanded it. And yet many converts — entirely new to their faith — are taught error on this point, despite their willingness to submit to God in whatever way he asks. The fault is in the teachers’, not the converts’.

When the New Testament was written, there was no disconnect between baptism and conversion. It all happened more or less at once. But the early church soon added infant baptism, sprinkling, and pouring, and Calvin separated baptism from salvation. And now the faith-only verses and the baptism + faith verses are difficult to reconcile. How can it be true that all who believe are saved (as the Bible says over and over) and yet salvation only occurs when someone is properly baptized? Both cannot be true. It cannnot be true that all with faith are saved when those with faith and a defective baptism are not. It’s that simple.

But God is quite clear: as I’ve argued elswhere more fully, he keeps all his promises. (Num. 23:19; Jos. 23:14; 2 Cor. 1:20; Titus 1:2; 2 Pet. 3:9).

In these times, we find God presented with a choice: He must either dishonor his promises that he will save all who have faith; or else he must create an exception from his requirement that salvation is only for those born of water and the Spirit.

Well, plainly, God is going to keep all his promises, and the only way he can do so is to save the penitent faithful who’ve been wrongly taught about baptism.

But while God can and does make exceptions, we are not God and we have no right to make exceptions for him. Therefore, if a penitent believer who has not been properly baptized enters our influence, we are obligated to teach him God’s will on the subject.

Baptism is a bigger issue than simple obedience. For example, notice Matthew’s version of the Great Commission:

(Matt. 28:19-20) “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Notice that Jesus tells his apostles to evangelize the world, to baptize their converts, and to teach them to obey his commandments. He distinguishes baptism from obedience to commandments. Baptism is thus not just another law to be obeyed. We are commanded to baptize our converts — and that is a matter of obedience.

Therefore, for those who wish to be a part of my congregation, I am compelled to teach baptism — even more so than other forms of obedience. As Beasley-Murray writes –

Finally we should observe that the authority of Christian Baptism is of the weightiest order. It rests on the command of the Risen Lord after his achieving redemption and receiving authority over the entire cosmos; it is integrated with the commission to preach the good news to the world, and it is enforced by his own example at the beginning of his messianic ministry. Such a charge is too imperious to be ignored or modified. It behooves us to adhere to it and conform to it as God gives grace.

G. R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, p 92.

God condemns the rebellious. He saves those who are loyal — even if they misunderstand a detail here or there. But, of course, God’s loyal people really do try to understand his will so that they can please him.

This is grace. Grace does not contradict obedience. In fact, grace compels obedience. It’s just that grace allows the kind of obedience we’re actually capable of achieving — an imperfect, stumbling obedience that sometimes misunderstands what we are to do, but an obedience from a heart that loves and is loyal to Jesus.


40 Responses

  1. Jay,

    Your arguments for sprinkling or pouring being immersion are hurtful. They fail to examine the heart.

    Does the heart fully submitting to God question God’s instructions?
    Does the heart fully submitting to God accept everyone else’s explanation of what God really meant?
    Does the heart committed to following Jesus settle for half-measures?

    Easy grace is a term that both misleads and contradicts God’s word AND speaks of a way that Jesus says ends in death – separation from the Father. And Jay, that is exactly what you are promoting here.

    Is there peace for any believer if we call every believer to actually submit completely to God? Absolutely.

    God calls us to life under HIS direction. Is there any question of that? When Eve listened to someone else’s exlanation of what God really meant instead of going to God to resolve her doubts, did she avoid the consequences with a claim of faulty instruction?

    God did not call us to have a little Jesus in our lives. It takes more than just a comfortable amount of religion to be a follower of Jesus. The heart that looks for the least obedience that just might be acceptable enough is NOT one that has counted the cost of following Jesus, but is rather hoping that a little Jesus is better than none – despite assurances in scripture that this is NOT true..

    When we look for the least we can do, we have a heart that is not yet ready to commit to Jesus. Try that approach with your wife or husband and you will not have a family that reflects the love between Jesus and His bride. Try that with someone you are dating and marriage will never be a threat to your single status in that relationship.

    Don’t use the heart as a point of argument for half-measures. Take the time to really look into the heart of the one who says they want to be Jesus’ disciple. After all, Jesus did. He never took one as a disciple who was not ready to fully commit and submit. And He warned those who claimed they were ready that there is a cost to following Him. It begins with laying down your life completely. Then it moves on from there. Teaching anything less than Jesus taught is required is teaching another gospel and is also promoting that people follow someone else’s explanation of what God really meant instead of God’s teachings. That did not work for Eve and Adam and it does not work for anyone else.

    Please follow Jesus, Jay. He did not make excuses for the cost that is required, and neither should we. Jesus Lite may sound catchy dripping from the tongues of slick preachers and sympathetic believers, but it is NOT what Jesus taught.

    Go for the gusto! Accept mercy on God’s terms and never apologize for it. Consider the cost-benefit analysis Jesus offered. Don’t just fall in love with having someone clean up your mess. Fall in love with the One who transforms your mess into beauty by His grace. Don’t just sip the Spirit, be filled.

    Speak the call Jesus spoke from God’s heart to ours – come with no reservations. Don’t settle for a squirt-gun’s measure of Jesus – be immersed in Him and in His loving transformation of the life surrendered to Him.

    Don’t settle for just $3.00 worth of God, Jay. That will make you miserable and leave your followers wondering where Jesus went.

    Calling all angels, ‘Come and taste and see that the Lord is good.’

  2. We should not teach exceptions as the rule. We should teach the covenat our Lord gave us and let our god be God. We can study about God’s nature . . . and I appreciate all the work you have done in Born of Water and other writings. The problem is that many in our churches say what you say . . . “But while God can and does make exceptions, we are not God and we have no right to make exceptions for him. Therefore, if a penitent believer who has not been properly baptized enters our influence, we are obligated to teach him God’s will on the subject.” . . . but they do not practice this. ( I’m not saying you are in this camp. I have trusted your words, though I do not know your actions.)

    Instead . . . many and I mean thousands and thousands . . . openly accept these penitent believers who have not been properly baptized——-without any attempt to help them understand the truth. We have pulpit ministers telling their congregations (one at our congregation when talking about baptism) that “God will do the right thing.” . . . implying that it doesn’t matter. A love for our Lord’s words is replaced with a “let’s just get along attitude. ” I understand the results of all of this as I watch my children grabble with baptism. In many places, baptism for remission of sins is being treated as a relic for the weak. The strong can simply believe in Jesus.

    We should teach about the good news and the covenant our Lord gave us and let God be God. We should not let our actions teach that it doesn’t matter.

    And ministers who lead our children away from the Covenant should be removed from their places of influence , , , and all of the sorry elders who support them. I pray that they will turn away from their sin . . . that God will help them find a path that honors His Word.

    I pray Jay . . . that you are true to the words you have written. This hope is the only thing that keeps me returning to your blog. I pray that your actions are true to the words you wrote that I quoted. I really do pray that.

  3. First, the tone of the first two comments is out of touch with the words. However, the moderate words added to real life experience of “anything goes” is a problem, so I uderstand the concern.
    I can do no less than teach what Jesus taught and demonstrated. He taught immersion, his disciple immersed, and He was immersed, and praised by God. To any that beleive that it is any way to get wet, or optional, all I can ask is “are you better than my Lord? He was immersed, and anyone wanting to be Christ like……..”
    When the spies were sent out returned and people were fearful of taking the land, someone could have got up and said, “God allows exceptions. If you don’t take the land now, no big deal.” Would have saved years of trouble if someone preached a good sermon on obeying and trusting God so let’s go.
    I cannot be judgemental to others salvation but I cannot teach exception for our practice, or honor it with authority in my congregation.

  4. Glenn asked,

    Does the heart fully submitting to God question God’s instructions? Does the heart fully submitting to God accept everyone else’s explanation of what God really meant? Does the heart committed to following Jesus settle for half-measures?

    The heart cannot submit further than the understanding of the mind allows. If someone has been taught wrongly on baptism and submits to an imperfect baptism fully intending to obey God’s command, that person’s heart is fully submissive.

  5. Stan,

    To be clear, I said I’m obligated to teach what I believe. I did not say I’m obligated to withdraw fellowship on the basis of baptismal differences. I don’t think that’s even permitted to us, much less required.

    At my church, we baptize by immersion those we convert into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins upon their declaration in faith as Jesus as the Messiah and as Lord. I think we’re pretty orthodox.

    But we treat believers in other congregations as fellow saints even though some have less-than-perfect baptisms.

    (1 John 5:1) Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.

  6. Larry,

    The spies died in the desert because of their lack of faith (Num 14:11).

    Those believers outside the Churches of Christ who fail to be properly baptized don’t do so out of a hard heart. They obey as well as they understand.

    The better Old Testament example is Hezekiah’s Passover — where God overlooked serious violations of the Law — worthy of death — because the people were seeking to obey him without proper instruction.

  7. Jay,

    If the intention of the heart is to obey the Lord, why not further educate them so they can complete what they intended? At that point, the rubber meets the road, Jay.


  8. Glenn,

    Haven’t I already said that?

  9. For the record I am no more aligned with Covenant theology than I am with Dispensation theology. Both make a contribution and both have some weaknesses.

    It seems to me that infant baptism is based more on theology (not a bad word no matter what the CoC says) than the bible and I think that many that favor infant baptism will acknowledge that suggestion. Just thinking out loud, I wonder if i might be wise to understand Covenant theology before commenting too much on its ramifications regarding baptism?

    Another thought that always passes through my head whenever I see the words “Amazing Grace” in the title of a post is the song by John Newton and what he meant by the term as expressed in the lyrics of the song, not to mention grace as he discussed it his systematic theology (not a bad subject to study in spite of its limits). After all, Newton was a five pointer and he when he talked about grace he actually meant efficacious grace, not the slightly watered down version of it taught in the CoC.

    May God be as gracious to us today as he has been so many times and the past and and especially as he was in giving us the gift of his completely unique Son.

    Merry Christmas,

  10. Thank you for a good post, Jay. I believe God’s grace and forgiveness is made available to us in every aspect of our lives, when our hearts are his.

  11. Dear Jay

    Thanks for this article. Some great insights, especially on the character of God. My question is: when we strive to teach the truth about baptism after someone was erroneously taught at the outset and they reject the new truth (for whatever reason,pride,sentimentality,subjectice experiences,traditions etc…) do they move to a state of disobedience leading to no salvation? Will God withdraw his Spirit from them? At that point do we ‘withdraw fellowship”? Thanks,H

  12. Henry,

    That’s such a good question I’ll have to write a post on it.

    PS — Love your church’s website.

  13. as a former ICOC/ COC member, I like your article here, and think you have alot of great points. I think we as COC people, we see that baptism is used in the NT at conversion and we look up the Greek and see that it is defined as “immersion’ so we say completely dunked in water for salvation, end of story.

    I’ve become more interested in the older Christian groups over the years. I’m impressed how instead of doctrine being something that is supposed to be just intellectually interpreted and obeyed, that many of them look at it as symbols that convey spiritual truths to be meditated on. Sometimes I think we can approach it in such a factual way (like we are talking about chemistry or physics) that we miss the romance of the symbolism. In the Jewish and ancient mindset, water itself would have spoken of both life and death. Or how the baptism ritual of being born of water and spirit reflect the Genesis story of the new creation coming out of water and spirit. I wonder if the baptism ritual was something that spoke to people’s hearts in the first century in a way that was relevant to them. Now it seems to be viewed as some arbitrary command to test how submissive Christians are.

    Many COCr’s I know cannot explain why Christ referred to his crucifixion to come as a “baptism”. Or know the word is sometimes used to mean ‘identification with’ which gives alot of significance to our adoption into the Family of the Trinity in Matthew 28:19. COCr’s seem to be arrogant sometimes because they tend to know their Bibles more than other people. But how much we know is all relative. Who is really to say how much do we really need to know or do right to be “right”?

  14. COCr’s seem to be arrogant sometimes because they tend to know their Bibles more than other people. – Erin

    It is very arrogant saying COCr’s tend to know their Bibles more than other people and is very untrue, especially when it comes to understanding the Bible as a whole.

  15. To Eric, Paul saw the good and evil of water. Romans 6:4 TNIV • We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
    Colossians 2:12 TNIV • having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
    Immersion satisfies all you ask, Jesus last days and death as buried, and resurrection as leaving the water. Notice that Col. includes faith. Elsewhere the idea of cleansing is included.
    The symbolism of immersion is so strong that no disciple of Jesus should want to miss it.

  16. There’s not any symbolism used in the Bible where would anyone who has studied the Bible get that?

  17. Yes Jay, it is a great example. You referenced the following:

    “The better Old Testament example is Hezekiah’s Passover — where God overlooked serious violations of the Law — worthy of death — because the people were seeking to obey him without proper instruction.”

    I seem to remember that God overlooked their violation. He was patient because he knew their hearts were right. And because their hearts were right, when they were shown to have violated the Law . . . they repented . . . they chose to do it the Lord’s way from then on. Isn’t that what happened?

    Choosing to do something the Lord’s way is a reflection of a right heart. Isn’t that just as much a part of the story and just as relevant? I really like this story because it does show that our God is forgiving. He has gone more than the extra mile . . . we know this. I need a god like that. We all do. He waited patiently for them to do what he had asked. They made an effort to do it right the next time . . . because their hearts were right. They were glad to follow God’s instructions. I am so glad my god is a patient god.

    If you are going to reference this wonderful example, you should reference it in its entirety.

    This example does not teach that God does not expect us to listen to what he said . . . to believe what he said . . . and to let our belief be demonstrated in faith as he has asked. I know you know this.

  18. Jay, in a way it’s ironic that you champion available grace but reject available light. Actually I like Jephthah (judges 11). If you can murder your daughter, and still make the Hebrews faithful list, God can accept anything. Ignorance costs, she didn’t need to die (Lev 27:1-8) but sadly no rabi rose to explain.
    Anyway, I can accept people making honest efforts, but hopefully they would be of the mind to do better when better is explained.

  19. What is the bigger danger?

    One person is raised in a Baptist church hearing about the free grace of God and the importance of placing your trust in him for savation. This person is so moved by the love of God that he does place his full trust in Jesus as his savior. He shares this decision with others. They rejoice with him and encourage him to be baptized as a public profession of that faith.

    Another person is raised in a Church of Christ. He hears that the Gospel is a simple plan that anyone can follow: hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized. He believes what he hears as he understands it. This plan certainly seems a whole lot more concrete than the one they preach down the road about praying a sinner’s prayer. So he does it.

    My point is that there is a very real danger that the message people are hearing in the pews in Churches of Christ is one of baptism saving people. The idea that people are saved by grace through faith in Christ is totally alien to many of them.

    The parallel between this argument of what baptism does reminds me a lot of the age old argument of what the Lord’s Supper is. Leaders in the Churches of Christ are very careful that their members understand that the bread and the wine are simply representative of the body and blood of Christ. They quickly point out that nothing miraculous happens at the table, but then they take great offense when their Baptist friends make the same observation about baptism.

    It is very gracious of you to be so accepting of Baptists, but has it ever occurred to you that the Churches of Christ might be walk very close to a much more dangerous error?

    I would like to offer the two links below for additional reading.

    What is evangelistic sacramentalism? by John Piper

    C H Spurgeon’s 1864 sermon on Baptismal Regeneration

  20. To Witness Protection, who evidently believes they also needs such protection,

    What you say here about the doctrine taught by the churches of Christ is not nearly correct. Oh, you got some of the teaching right, but you rapidly discount that at least one part of it is addressed in any effective way when you deny that belief is part and parcel in the teaching.

    What you mistake for baptismal regeneration, a popular characterization of the teaching sometimes cited to support infant baptism (not really baptism at all, and to some extent for the reasons you list and those given in the references you used), is NOT baptismal regeneration at all. Indeed, baptism, if it is to have any effective purpose, must be reserved for those who believe – as most all churches of Christ I have ever known do teach. And there is not, as you seem to suggest, any skimping on the teaching concerning the crucial nature of belief – both about Jesus and about what He commanded His disciples to do (whoever believes AND is baptized = shall be saved). It is NOT one or the other, as you seem to suggest. It is one AND the other. Spurgeon and Piper notwithstanding, the Lord was very clear on this point.

    You stand with Spurgeon and Piper, but I’d rather stand with Jesus, thank you. After all, we’ll all answer to Him in the end, not Spurgeon or Piper or you or me, either.



  21. Stan,

    Actually, no, they didn’t do it right at all. They took Passover on the wrong date and while unclean.

    (2 Chr 30:18-20) Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone 19 who sets his heart on seeking God–the LORD, the God of his fathers–even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” 20 And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

    They arrived too late to go through the ritual cleansing, and they took the Passover anyway — because they had set their hearts on seeking God. It was too late to go back in time and change things, and God forgave them.

    I do not teach and have never taught that God does not expect us to listen to what he said. I don’t know why you imply that I teach such a thing. It’s not a fair characterization at all.

    The critical point is that people sometimes don’t get it right despite trying very hard to get it right. The people who attended Passover traveled great distances to get to Jerusalem and celebrate God’s salvation. They were very highly motivated to get it right out of devotion to God. They nonetheless got it wrong, and God accepted their worship — even though according to the Law of Moses, they should have been killed.

    (2 Chr 30:26-27) There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. 27 The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place.

  22. Glenn,
    I was raised in the C of C. I led singing when I was 2, according to my Dad, a minister not allowed to preach because my parents were divorced. He was trained at Sunset in Lubbock. Beyond normal Sunday, Wednesday, he taught us with our own flannel board in our home. I was baptized at the proper age of accountability, 12. I was a member of one of the largest C of C’s in southern California, Newland St. where Jeff Walling (and over time, others) was youth minister and JJ Turner (and over time, others) was the main minister. Went to all the youth rallies. I left high school early to go to Harding to be a preacher.

    What’s the point? Only once during all those years–and many years after I was dunked–did I ever hear clearly explained what having a saving faith and relationship with my heavenly Father and His glorious Son and the Holy Spirit really meant. What I was taught in C of C was how to be saved. It was steps, its was rules, it was dead, dead, dead. After I just about spiritually died at Harding from the RAMPANT sin that existed on campus (and still does, btw), someone else, not a member of the C of C, shared with me the truly Good News of what it means to be born again, to be forgiven SO THAT the Holy Spirit could come and make His Home in my heart.

    So I’d be careful about speaking so confidently about the entire spectrum of C of C and what they teach about saving faith in Jesus. Because I saw a lot of casualties in my day, because we were taught about a plan and were NEVER encouraged to love the MAN Jesus. And that is the truth.

    Grace to you and all that would boldly wear the name of Jesus and live like Him,


  23. Jay,

    In fairness to Stan and others reading here, it was not because they wanted to do it so much that they flouted the Law that they were forgiven. It was because Hezekiah asked that they be forgiven.

    John tells us that we can pray for life and God will grant our prayer, but NOT for those sins unto death. The key, it seems to me at least, is that the people will get things right when instructed how to do so. They will repent of their wrong-doing. If not, there is no promise of forgiveness. This was true in Hezekiah’s day and is still true.

    And as far as whether or not they took the Passover on the wrong day, you might want to consult the Law on that point. There were provisions for taking it on days and during months other than the annual observance. I am not certain about the circumstances of Hezekiah’s day – but it is worth taking a look, eh?



  24. Andy,

    I was born and raised in Illinois, and you probably would not know the ministers at the churches I attended. None were ‘leading names’ even amongst those in our area. Still, I have travelled more than a little and toured with the York College Chorus while I was student there (Bass Section Leader and acting Vice-President of the Chorus). I have been to churches of Christ in IL, MO, NE, AR, IN, TX, AZ, CA, TN, MN, MI, FL, AL, MS, KY, KS, IA, ND, SD, CO, NV, NM, GA, OH, VA, and overseas in England and Belgium and Denmark. I, too, was a student at SSOP, and I, too, have been divorced and remarried. Sounds like your Dad and I have a few things in common. You and I also have in common a youthful dunking that was nothing like the baptism of which the NT speaks. I later realized that and addressed that by asking to be immersed into Christ while a student at York College.

    The comment I made, brother, was about churches of Christ I have known and/or read about. I could as well have included the Christian Churches of whom I know and have visited…like the one at which I am now preaching in the interim as our regular preacher is recovering from open heart surgery. The ICC is a bit more liberal than some of the churches of Christ and they do not hold my ex-wife’s infidelities against me.

    I know the bitterness of being denied a passion for preaching Jesus and having a regular pulpit job. I know the bitterness that is divorce. I also know the joy of finding a people more concerned with one’s heart and life than with one’s circumstances. And I also know the joy of forgiving those who ignorantly withhold such grace. More than all of that, though, I know the joy of serving a Lord who welcomes all who seek Him, a privilege none of us deserve and all of us should be humbly desperate to accept.

    Andy, it was through friends I met while at York College (neither of them ministers and both better friends than I deserved) that I learned to trust Jesus. That is no fault of the ministers whom I had known growing up, since I seldom listened to much they had to say. And as for the rampant sin on the campuses of Christian Colleges and Universities like York and Harding and many others I have only visited, the churches of Christ are not the only ones whose schools are besieged. After all, Satan hates ALL of those who point anywhere close to Jesus! So the fact that temptaion challenges our college students at ANY school (as well as others younger and older) is hardly surprising. I knew plenty of that at York and Harding and even at SSOP and other schools – and not only by hearing the gossip.

    God’s grace is precious and wonderful, but do not be deceived – it comes at a dear price. It cost Jesus His life and will cost His followers no less. And it is NOT a life to be undertaken without serious consideration for the ongoing cost that will be paid along the way. As He was treated, so also we who follow Him will be treated. Some teach it better, and some listen better, but the truth is being told – and not only among those who have signs out front of their assemblies heralding the meetings of the churches of Christ.



  25. Wow you type fast. That would have taken me all night.

    But there I’ve gone and done it again. My post came off much more cocky than I meant. So I apologize about that. I really do.

    I was just reacting to this sentence:
    “And there is not, as you seem to suggest, any skimping on the teaching concerning the crucial nature of belief – both about Jesus and about what He commanded His disciples to do.”

    My experience was that Jesus as a person was largely missed. He was part of a theological plan, but not a love-worthy groom and a holy king. So that was my only point.

    I hope you’ll forgive my un-needed tone. My listing of my history was just so you’d know where I was coming from. I hold no pride (as far as I know) about any of that… just giving you a context. But I’m glad to know a bit of your history.


  26. Larry,

    There is a big difference between explaining and convincing. A penitent person will necessarily try to obey what he understands to be God’s will, although he may well do so imperfectly.

    But the fact that I’ve heard a sermon or read a tract doesn’t mean I’m convinced. We all sometimes fail to be convinced on things that ought to be persuasive to us. Sometimes it’s the fault of the teacher. Sometimes it’s a result of emotional barriers. There are lots of possible reasons. But for penitent believers, these failings are covered by grace.

    Therefore, if I fail to persuade a penitent believer of my views on baptism (or instrumental music or orphans homes), that person isn’t thereby damned. That only happens if they refuse to obey God out of a rebellious heart (Heb 10:26 ff).

  27. Jay, I was mostly kidding on the available grace vs. light. I’ll accept the heart of a penitent believer.
    I feel for the one who is trying but lacks some of the knowledge. Some believe that ignorance is bliss, but mostly it is pain, and leads to mistaken decisions, even though God accepts the effort. That’s why I offer the example of Jephthah. God detests human sacrifice, and the law offered the remedy, but the times were so lacking in teaching that the revelation was wasted. Personally, I find the Christian religious landscape of America similar. Most regular church attendees have very little Bible knowledge, and thereby make faulty choices in belief and life. c of Cers could really improve religious America but they like Jesus’ Pharisees, need to get the heart right.
    So, Jay keep working on c of C hearts, and I will keep reminding fellow Christians that Jesus asked for communion and baptism and we should honor all His word.

  28. Witness Protection, I understand your contrast.
    To reduce a relationship to God to steps, or ritual is idolatry. All those B movies with the natives being religious show people going to the god with offerings, rituals, magic words, etc. to entice the god to do their will.
    The Living God is the father of us all, and we are born with that relationship. We cannot evoke His power by the perfect baptism (immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) or doing 5 steps. We can give ourselves and learn from His Son, and do as His Son did (be immersed, commune, teach others, etc.).
    We can all do better, c of Cers, Baptists, the feel good gospel of many mega-churches, and all others that claim to be Christ like. We all champion bits and pieces of His revelation and think our part is most holy, popular, or whatever. Let’s all try to do the whole will of God together, and use the best of all our learning and hearts to be the complete bride of Christ. .

  29. Coming off of a long stretch in the ICOC(13+ years), I was very conservative in my views on baptism. When I left the ICOC I visited several Restoration type fellowships, trying to find a new home. During this journey I encountered some interesting things that changed my views on believers who were improperly taught about baptism. The churches I visited were not pushy about baptism. They understood that the issue has become polarizing. Instead, they gently instruct about baptism without being judgmental, almost accepting(in reality tolerating). They embrace these believers as members of the church and worship with them. Ultimately these believers(for the most part) come around. Not through human pressure, but through the gentle pressure of God’s hand. Allowing the doctrine of baptism to divide believers is foolish. I’m not saying we should back down on our convictions one bit. I am saying we should tone down our pride – knowledge puffs up.

    An example: if I have a son who doesn’t believe in God, do I then reject him? Do I stop loving him? Do I pull away from him? No. I do the opposite. I don’t preach to him. I don’t push him. I love him, surrendering to God the heavy lifting.

    It is a truly beautiful thing to see a believer’s understanding grow and blossom, under the watchful eye of our loving Father.

  30. Incredible how these blogs hit the jackpot with COCr’s every time you post about baptism. Please accept my ignorance, my salvation is the cross where Jesus gave His life for mine.

  31. Roger,

    Thanks. I think you’re spot on. Love and humility are far more powerful than the best arguments we’ll ever muster.

    (I wonder how the history of the 20th Century Churches of Christ might have been different …)

  32. Roger, Wow! Leaving the pushy discipling ICOC for the gentle hand of God. I applaud the change, and admire the insights you must have.

  33. If you guys are spreading so much love to other believers as you say…where the proof? All you have done really is talk about how the COC denomination is more right than everyone else and how gracious you are being to allow everyone else below you to worship with you. Um…..ok. I really don’t see any light shining forth here, maybe it’ll happen some day, maybe.

  34. […] Others Regarding Baptism? Posted on December 23, 2009 by Jay Guin Henry Kriete asked an important question in a comment a few days ago – Dear […]

  35. Anonymous,

    Just because we don’t agree on baptism, doesn’t mean we can’t love one another. I can accept your relationship with God as genuine, treat you as a friend and fellow believer. Maybe we will never agree on baptism or maybe we will. But we can let God do the judging.

    I agree that this discussion sounds judgmental of those that don’t agree with the COC doctrines on baptism. But you have to understand that you are being privy to an internal discussion about a COC related issue. The COC(especially the ICOC) is riddled with arrogance and elitism. We have to address those issues, without rejecting our sincere doctrinal beliefs. So before I wouldn’t even fellowship with a Catholic. Now I embrace them as a fellow believer, I don’t judge them or try to “convert” them, etc.. I hope there’s light there somewhere:)

  36. Roger, I mostly agree except, we can always talk about the differences in love. Differences are for both sides a good source of improving our knowlege, changing our mistakes, or adopting best practice. As you said, everyone else is not on earth to convert to our style.
    We should be sincerely interested in others beliefs and practice not for criticism but to learn or share our learning. The best mistakes are the ones others have already made that we can avoid, that includes history and current trends.

  37. Larry,

    I totally agree. I’m not suggesting that the COC should change to suit others, not at all. Also, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to convince friends and family about adult immersion. Actually, I sometimes get quite desperate when trying to convince close friends and family. Ultimately, it comes down to our attitudes towards those with whom we don’t fully agree, but still wish to fellowship with us.

  38. Jay:

    I always grow from your teachings, even from those with which I don’t fully agree. You words are a blessing to me and I thank you.

    Your thoughts on imperfect baptism stirred a restlessness in my heart.

    I’m seventh generation cofC. And I, truthfully, experienced the same petite mal seizures that you report suffering from in HSRG. You know the ones, the conservative cofC seizures where—no matter where you are or what you’re doing—in order to maintain your salvation, you freeze and pray for forgiveness of any real or potential sin before the trumpets might blow and catch you a bit short on officially requested pardon : )

    My early, conservative upbringing indoctrinated me to accept, among many things, that each and every time the scriptures used the word “baptize” that it meant “water immersion.”

    But Mark 10:39 always gnawed at me. If clearly one scriptural reference to baptism could NOT possibly refer to water immersion (because here Christ forecasts his coming “baptism,” and his “water” baptism has already taken place, thus the coming baptism actually refers to a “spiritual appointment”)—so, how can we be certain that all other references to baptism must mean water immersion? I began to wonder if the critical concept behind the word “baptism” was simply “immersion,” not necessarily water immersion. In the scriptures, “spiritual” immersion is the clear final objective; and I began to wonder if 1) spiritual immersion happened only simultaneously to water immersion, or if 2) water immersion is an obligatory outward display of an already completed inward result, or if 3) water was simply a metaphorical word for spirit and spiritual immersion was the only requirement. If water and spirit were metaphorically interchangeable, then salvation could, and actually does, take place apart from water immersion. I’m not saying I believe the latter, only that if water and spirit are in fact interchangeable, that water immersion would not be necessary for salvation.

    I was taught quite literally that 1 Peter 3:21 proved that water baptism saves. But study led me to conclude that the verse actually states the exact opposite. The scripture says that washing the body (water immersion) does not save. The verse claims that it is the washing of the heart (spiritual immersion) that saves. I find a number of verses that indicate that New Testament believers underwent water immersion, but if you accept that “baptize” (as in Mark 10:39) can at times mean a spiritual appointment (as opposed to only a water immersion) then those early Christians could technically have undergone a water baptism to represent what had already happened in their heart. I began to ask if Acts 2:38 could, possibly, mean “repent and be spiritually immersed for the remission of your sins” or “repent, and in order to be saved undergo a water immersion representing your spiritual appointment.” When I asked more learned brethren to explore the topic from a Mark 10 vantage point, I was accused of being a closet Baptist. So I keep my studies private.

    I’ve pondered Titus 3:5 too, finding it teaches that we are “washed” by the Spirit—thus we are not “washed” by water. And while all cofC–ers would technically support the premise that we are spiritually cleansed, my conservative brethren will likely insist the Spirit will not wash the heart until we obediently wash the body. But I find that hard to absolutely prove if, again, one accepts that the use of the term “baptism” doesn’t always mean water immersion.

    1 Peter 1:2 teaches that we are “sprinkled” with the blood of the Savior. cofC-ers would never accept a literal “sprinkling.” So for us, this sprinkling is either 1) a metaphor for water immersion, or 2) a metaphor for a strictly spiritual phenomenon, 3) a metaphor for a combination of both.

    So, 1 Peter 1:2 seems an important verse to me. If “sprinkling” means water baptism, then it reinforces the concept that we receive the Spirit when we undergo water immersion. But if this “sprinkling” is a metaphor for a strictly spiritual phenomenon, then it seems to reinforce the possibility that the word “baptism” could, in some cases, also be a metaphor for a solely spiritual phenomenon.

    I began to ask myself if I should interpret the use of H2O in biblical reference to “baptism” as I was clearly to interpret H2O in biblical reference to “water from wells”. We are given examples of drawing water from wells, but the lesson we take from that is that we are to draw sustenance from Christ. Could water baptism be a like metaphor? We are given examples of purchasing expensive pearls, but we understand that the real prize is salvation. We are called branches, but we understand that we are rooted in Christ. We are said to marry Christ, but we understand that to be a relationship bond. We are referred to as eyes and hands of a body, but we know we are parts of a whole. In other words, I wondered if water was more appropriately viewed as the vehicle of an object lesson. Follow my thinking: Jesus healed the sick by laying hands on them. I’m not supposed to presume to heal by the “laying on of hands”…but I am supposed to be a healer. Jesus fed thousands with five loaves and two fish. I’m not supposed to presume to miraculously feed scores with one sack lunch, but I’m to provide for the literal and spiritual nourishment of others. Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world. I’m not supposed to look for a spectacular, meaningful death, but I am supposed to sacrifice myself for others. Thus, perhaps the pattern follows that: while Jesus was immersed in water, my real objective is to be immersed in my Lord. Jesus’ water, feeding, healing, pearls are all “physical” metaphors for how I am to “spiritually” live my life. Water = a spiritual message, not water = an H2O message.

    Further, I find that that the Hebrews writer (6:2) implores me to get past the reiterations of baptisms and on to more weighty things, like (Heb 8:11) “knowing the Lord.” So perhaps I’ve already put too much concern on this issue—and it’s best to simply continue to do as I have always done, teach water immersion as essential to spiritual salvation–and not worry that our brotherhood’s claim that “baptism” always means “water” immersion—which clearly conflicts with Mark 10. A water immersion was the Lord’s example, so regardless, it can’t hurt, right? Does it matter that I was taught a technical error if the end result is that we get people to pursue the safest path to salvation?

    I relished my water baptism at age 12. I’ve been blessed to teach and tend the water and spiritual baptism of dozens of others, including my own children. But my heart is heavy for those outside the cofC who find that all of our teachings are difficult to reconcile with all of the scripture. It’s difficult for me sometimes too.

    Lastly Jay, I add to your proposition that people can have imperfect baptisms, the comfort I find in what I will call imperfect knowledge of Christ. Matthew 3:16 and 11:2 reveals to us that men who walked with Christ 24-7 for three years, called him Lord, and believed he was the Messiah—really didn’t understand who he was and what he was teaching. So I calm my restless heart with the realization that if the apostles were saved despite the fact that they really didn’t “get it” (i.e. have a perfect understanding) then hopefully others who don’t fully “get it” will be saved also. If the saved messengers had an imperfect understanding of the plan of salvation, then perhaps we can believe that followers with an imperfect understanding (of baptism) can be saved too.

    But I’ll part with you by leaving one of the conundrums that keeps me searching for better understanding: if those who have what you suggest to be an imperfect baptism are in the end, perfectly fine…then perhaps we are the ones with an imperfect understanding of baptism.

  39. Anon, one of the sadest choices of history was to not translate Baptism from the Greek. Simply the word was not religious, it was everyday immerse or dip.
    Jesus clearly uses it to refer to his passion. He was immersed in the drama of salvation.
    Leaving the Living God out of anything makes it just like seving a dead idol. Immersion in water is not salvation, but a heart felt plea to God to accept His sacrifice followed by symbolic burial and resurrection from water, is His way. The power is God’s sacrifice not the water or the ritual.
    The sprinkling of blood passages clearly refer to Jewish sacrifices. Before you wrote, I never made the connection, to the dilituted power of sprinkling – it is a symbolic link to the blood of animals that “could never take away sin.” Immersion is a powerful symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice! It is symbolic not the real thing, but the best symbol He gave us! Why take a lessor symbol?

  40. Larry,
    You are right. “Why,” is the real question. Why would anyone knowingly choose the “lesser symbol?” I assumed for years that some would-be Christians were purposely choosing the “lesser” path because they had some sort of aversion to water baptism. So I sought to understand the source of the aversion–as a means to overcome the persistent barrier.

    What I found was most seekers have no aversion to baptism…they simply don’t think baptism means water immersion. If you can’t agree on that point, it’s tough to move forward. So if I want to “prove my point” I have to eliminate or at least adequately address the weak points in my position.

    While I will never abandon teaching water immersion, I find sharing the beauty, worth, symbolism, and privilege of baptism “sells” better than the “see it exactly my way, say it exactly my way, and do it exactly my way” approach that I was taught.

    I have also accepted that cofC claims that the scriptures offer absolute and simple clarity on this issue creates suspicion. Because we often refuse to even acknowledge that some scripture appears to teach “faith only saves,” –we come off looking like unreliable sources of information regarding salvation. If we speak in absolutes about the convenient scriptures that support our position and refuse to address that there are other scriptures that are not as nice and tidy for our position we can appear a bit fraudulent.

    I suppose I just want to remind myself that if I want others to be open-minded when they approach the scriptures, I must start by modeling that behavior myself.

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